Conference Organizer: Proceed With Caution!

warning sign

Danger, conference organizer! Danger!

Did you ever watch the late-’60s sci-fi TV series Lost In Space? Yeah, most of you reading this are too young to know or remember it.

Still you may have watched it in reruns or at a slumber party. It was known for its iconic robot that served as an early-tornado-type-siren. Whenever it sensed a terrifying situation, it would flail its metal arms and shout danger.

Your Conference Data Just Might Be Flailing Its Arms

If you are paying close attention to the right conference data, it might just be flailing its robotic arms shouting danger.

And you’d want to know that as soon as possible! Wouldn’t you?

So, what is your conference data really telling you?

When you collect, review and analyze the appropriate conference data, it can serve a similar purpose.

It may send you a cautionary warning that your event is about to face some unfortunate circumstances.

Your challenge is paying close enough attention to the kind of data that will lead you to the right conclusions. And help you take the right actions.

If Your Data Feels Good, It’s Probably A Temporary Emotion

If you feel good about your conference metrics right now, it may be time to take a more critical look.

Are you following leading or lagging indicators?

Too many organizations pat their leaders on the back for increased attendance, positive smile-sheet scores, or increases in sponsorship revenue. And often they regret later.

We need to use discernment to look deeper into what our conference data is really telling us. We have to be careful not to let emotions based on lagging vanity metrics guide our decisions. We need to delve deeper into that data to uncover actionable metrics.

Here’s how to tell the difference between Vanity and Actionable Metrics.

Vanity Metrics (Lagging Indicators):

1. Vanity metrics cause everyone to feel good about the conference.

They give everyone a false sense of security. They include stats on total attendance, revenue, number of sponsors or exhibitors, pace reports, and satisfaction surveys.

They are the easiest to measure. And they’ll misguide you.

2. Vanity metrics are also the easiest to manipulate.

We often confuse vanity metrics with correlation and causation.

When our numbers increase to the positive, everyone is happy and says we are doing the right things. When they decrease, we blame everyone for not doing their jobs. Vanity metrics do not provide conference-planning teams with the insight to know what to do next.

3. Vanity Metrics are lagging indicators.

Often by the time we see a decrease in attendance, it is a symptom of a much deeper issue we were unaware was going on for some time.

Actionable Metrics (Leading Indicators)

1. Actionable metrics help us identify a problem and can provide insight for midcourse correction.

They are leading indicators that focus more with who — rather than how many — attended.

2. Actionable metrics include data on attendee, exhibitor- and sponsor-investment retention and loyalty.

What is their engagement level (not just on a transactional level either)? What percentage participated in the opening general session, education sessions, and networking events at any given time? How many made changes to their jobs based on what they learned at your event? How many attendees have become conference evangelists, telling others and bringing them along?

3. Actionable metrics measure what matters and help you make decisions about the strategy of your conference.

We have to remember that metrics are human, too. Truly actionable metrics help us trace the individuals who responded. If we don’t fully understand the why behind the numbers, we can’t reach out and conduct qualitative research.

No More Flailing Arms

When you embrace actionable metrics and leading indicators, you can talk with your team and leadership about your real conference challenges.

That elevates your position as a forward-looking, strategic conference professional in your organization.

And you don’t have to wait for the flailing of arms.

What actionable metrics are you currently capturing and interpreting? How long do you think it takes before conference lagging indicators start shouting danger and you know you must do something drastic?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2016.

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